Commencement Traditions

Commencement at the University of Connecticut is a time of ceremony and pageantry, embracing some traditions dating back to medieval times and others that are more recent.

UConn graduation over the years

The University of Connecticut was founded as the Storrs Agricultural School in 1881, when the General Assembly accepted a gift of money and land from Charles and Augustus Storrs, natives of Mansfield. In 1893, when it became a land-grant college and officially opened to women, the name was changed to Storrs Agricultural College. As the mission of the institution grew, its name was changed in 1899 to Connecticut Agricultural College, and in 1933 to the Connecticut State College.

Sally Reis, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, bears the mace at the head of the Academic Procession, at the start of a UConn commencement ceremony. (UConn File Photo)

Sally Reis, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Educational Psychology, bears the mace at the head of the Academic Procession, at the start of a UConn commencement ceremony. (UConn File Photo)

At first a small but vigorous college with limited undergraduate offerings in agriculture, home economics, and mechanical arts, with the development of a university program it became The University of Connecticut in 1939. The regional campuses were established in 1946 to accommodate the influx of veteran students.

Enormous expansion has taken place over the years, together with increased enrollment. Today, the University is made up of 14 different schools and colleges, with a total of more than 30,000 students. At the Storrs campus, there are nearly 18,000 undergraduates and more than 8,000 graduate students, representing some 99 nations.

Pomp and ceremony

While the tradition that graduates wear a cap and gown dates back to the 12th century and is common around the world, this year’s newest graduation custom – expected soon to become a tradition – is for students who have studied overseas as part of their degree to wear a special sash adorned with the flag of the country where they studied.

The Commencement ceremony, because of the large number of graduates, is divided into separate exercises, by college or school. The Schools of Dental Medicine and Medicine, located at UConn Health in Farmington, and the School of Law, located in Hartford, hold their own exercises. The Commencement procession in each of the exercises at Storrs is heralded by ceremonial trumpets acquired especially for the University’s commencement, and the leader of the procession bears a processional banner with colors specific to the school or college.

The Academic Procession is led by the Bearer of the Mace, followed by the faculty. The University Marshal, identified by his Baton, follows the President, together with the speaker, the Board of Trustees, vice-presidents, deans, and other University officials. The Mace is presented at the center of the stage while members of the platform party enter and take their places. When the Mace is placed on the stand, it signals the beginning of the ceremony.